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Difelikefalin is a peripherally restricted kappa opioid receptor (KOR) agonist that was recently approved by the FDA to treat pruritis in dialysis patients. Here, we investigated the cardiovascular and renal responses to difelikefalin, and using the KOR antagonist norbinaltorphimine (norBNI), examined whether any difelikefalin-induced changes in the renal excretion of water and/or electrolytes were mediated through a central or peripheral KOR pathway. The effects of norBNI pretreatment on nalfurafine, a KOR agonist that crosses the blood-brain barrier, were also examined. We hypothesized that difelikefalin would alter urine output differently than nalfurafine, given that KOR agonists produce diuresis via activating central KORs to inhibit vasopressin release. Following catheterization, conscious Sprague-Dawley rats were infused i.v. with isotonic saline and pretreated with norBNI centrally via an intracerebroventricular (ICV) cannula or peripherally via an intravenous catheter. After stabilization, difelikefalin or nalfurafine was administered i.v. and urine output, heart rate and mean arterial pressure (MAP) were recorded for 90 min. Difelikefalin produced a significant increase in urine output, and significant decrease in urinary sodium and potassium excretion, urine osmolality, and MAP. ICV norBNI pretreatment markedly attenuated the increase in urine output caused by difelikefalin and nalfurafine but did not inhibit the electrolyte effects. However, IV norBNI pretreatment prevented all responses to difelikefalin and nalfurafine. Together, these findings demonstrate that difelikefalin and nalfurafine utilize central KOR pathways to elicit diuresis and a decrease in MAP but enhance renal tubular electrolyte reabsorption through a peripheral KOR pathway, providing important insight into two clinically useful KOR agonists. Copyright © 2022 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Jacob K Meariman, Jane C Sutphen, Juan Gao, Donald E Mercante, Daniel R Kapusta. Difelikefalin, a peripherally restricted KOR (kappa opioid receptor) agonist, produces diuresis through a central KOR pathway. Pharmacological research. 2022 Nov;185:106470

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PMID: 36202183

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